Off on a journey! I ported the luggage and Seyni ported Fanta. At this point we couldn’t imagine the places we’d go.

Okay, this one’s going to be a bit more formal.  I realize as I write my Volunteer Report Form on all the work I’ve done at site in the last six months at site I have done a poor job reporting my actual work activities in my blog.  What it comes down to mostly is a collection of mini-trainings on composting, double-digging garden beds, and proper spacing for vegetables, one big garden training my site-mate and I hosted with our Master Farmer (a subject I promise one day I will explain), and convincing people to try new things like live fencing and drying mangoes.  And then there is my pride and joy, the Earthworks Tourne.  Along with four other Agriculture volunteers in the Kolda region, we wrote a big Food Security grant and convinced a third-year volunteer and our favorite Pulaar speaking technical staff member to come down for a week long training tour.  Earthworks is one of the many fancy terms to describe large-scale landscaping that increases the amount of water and organic matter captured on agricultural land.  We decided that not only did we all want to have trainings in our villages, but that we also wanted members from our communities to travel to each training and become local experts on the subject.  Our core group of volunteers and counterparts got close (physically, in much of the transport), learned a tremendous amount, and had so much fun together.  At each site, with the help of volunteers from the communities we were working in, we created working demonstrations of Earthworks techniques and discussed the further work and maintenance necessary.  The joy and good work produced throughout this training is best told via photographs, so the following is a brief description of each project and then snap shots taken at the corresponding site.

But first, a couple more fun transit shots.

Fifteen in a Peace Corps car is still something to smile about compared to local transportation.

Takes all sizes. A stop for butik necessities in my road town, Dabo.









Day 1: Timbindallah, site of PCV Ruth Nervig

Project: Control erosion channel and ease water flow in a field established on a dramatic slope.  The field was previously used for grains such as millet, sorghum and corn, but may become a women’s community garden in the future.

The vast erosion channel, which we started to control by building a catchment basin and dam at the beginning of its path.

Scraping dirt to make smooth sides for out catchment basin and tossing it down-slope to make the dam.

Austin explaining the purpose and technique of a spillway, which allows water to exit the catchment basin in a controlled manner.

Five counterparts using an A-frame, an easily made, accurate, and locally-accessible level, to find the the fields contour lines.

Beautiful contour berms made to hold more water on the field and a nice guide to follow for contour planting.

The three female counterparts, Fatoumata, Fanta, and Koumba, were bosom buddies by the first night.



























Day 2: Nghoki, site of PCV Dominica Martin

Project: Control water flow into the women’s garden and create appropriate garden beds on irregular landscape.  Secondarily, fruit trees will be planted on the top of the landscape, where garden beds are not practical due to the distance from the well.

The rivulets entering the Ngoki women’s garden from a big water path spilling off the field crop space up-hill. Here we did miniature versions of the catchment basin and dam system employed in Timbindallah.

A termite mound we turned into terraced garden beds with a cuvet at the apex to plant a tree that will provide nitrogen-fixation, stablization, shade and leaf litter.

Youssepha, our Senegalese technical trainer, explaining the boomerang berm we created around a tree in the garden space, which will serve as a demonstration for the fruit trees to be planted up hill. Encompassing the crown of the tree, these will hold water around the roots and when done in a series of what are called fish-scale swales will let the spill-over water fall around one boomerang berm into that of the next tree.


Day 3: Fode Bayo, site of PCV Mary Cadwallender (Y’all know this one!)

Project: Improve water and organic matter retention on the slope leading into the seasonal river for increased yields in rice production.  Slowing the flow of water into the lowlands may also decrease the possibility of rotting lowland rice in heavy rain seasons.

Every afternoon when we arrived at a new site we would head out to the field and make plans for the next days activities. This was the scouting crew in Fode Bayo. No one knows the land better than Nacho.

My master farmer, Amadou Gano, learning how to use the A-frame. Good thing too, because we’ll be doing some contour berms on his property next week!

Dancing on the contour berms made to slow the flow of water into the seasonal river. These things are compact. Survived our first storm intact.

My namesake, a dear, fiesty old woman decided beating the berms with a stick was her preferred method for compacting.

Mandes know how to party! In Fode Bayo we even make hard labor fun. I must toot our horn a bit more and let you know that we had the largest community turn-out of the whole trip.

Koumba Diallo aka Ruth Nervig, explaining something in that sing-songy, sweet Pula-Futa.

Youssepha taking his daily, post-lunch nap. A big bowl of rice in this heat can really do you in.

The whole crew fit in our big tree.






































Day 4: Sinchian Sirin, site of PCV Whitney Stockwell

Project: Begin repairing erosion channel that starts at the edge of the bush were land has been cleared for agricultural use and continues through the center of village.  The erosion channel is causing damage to huts and a well.  The village has only been in this location for sixteen years and prior to their establishment no erosion channel existed.

A well going under. The end of the erosion channel, where ironically, water is taking out the village’s water source.

The group planning discussions got a little more lively as the training went on. That’s Seyni, my male counterpart, raising his hand to raise a point, or more likely, mischief.

The three over-built dams we constructed at the top of the erosion channel to begin slowing the water flow through the village. Unfortunately, only the first dam, supported by a full backing of rocks, made it through the first storm. It takes some heavy-duty techniques to combat deforestation.

Whitney and her counterparts, Abdulaye and Fatoumata, walking the contour berms created in Abdulaye’s field to disperse and slow sheet flow off the fields.


















Day 5: Sare Kemu, Kolda, site of PCV Jordan Levinson

Project: Direct the flow of water through pre-existing rice paddies constructed by making a series of berms in a grid design.  This land is not only on a slope that receives water from the surrounding area, but also has a huge influx from a pipe re-directing water from the entire neighborhood into the field.

The maze of rice paddies set up in this semi-urban agricultural education center in a Kolda city neighborhood.

As the last site on the tour, we had the counterparts step up to the teacher’s mound. Here the three on the right are explaining the construction and calibration of an A-frame to the student, far left, and a larger audience outside the shot.

Our ladies were getting a little tired by Day 5. Daydreaming of their own berms and swales back home, no doubt.

The pipeline. I can’t imagine how much water is re-directed here during rainy season.

The bi-directional spillways created between rice paddies to help even out the water levels between sections.

Slowing down that pipeline flow with a big spillway as the water enters the field.

























Going out with a bang.  The last night the volunteers cooked up a big American-ish style dinner and held a small ceremony to thank and congratulate our community counterparts.

Crammed in the Peace Corps car with a buffet of food.

Excited, confused, anxious? Our American cooking required some explanation and the reviews were highly variable, but they were all impressed that we are able to cook.

The proud participants and their bright blue certificates! This was such a wonderful group and we all hope to work together again in the near future.

I’m holding all the water in my fields for you,

Here’s to a happy rainy season and healthy crops,



3 thoughts on “Earthworks!

  1. Oh, Mary. What an informative post. I loved learning about the Earthworks project. It will be interesting to see what the rainy season does to the berms. The pictures add so much. The tales that FB tree could tell!

    Love and miss you.

  2. Mary,
    What a fascinating post! I hope all the hard work will pay off during the rains.
    Best wishes,
    Betsy Greene

  3. What an amazing project! I loved learning about the Earthworks project. You all are doing a wonderful job!

    Keep posting – – I enjoy reading about your life.

    Karen Richards

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